Sunday, November 15, 2015
interesting but made my brain hurt - multiple views of the universe, bubble universes, linear models of the universe, expansion, true infinity, it was both mind expanding (if infinity is real, then there are infinite universes, if the number of particles is finite and n then there must be n+1 universes and therefore there must be duplicates. If there are dumplicartes then they are identical in all respects therefore must be more than 1 of you. This reminds me of what I thought infinity meant when I was a kid.
This was like the book of the metre but simpler. A survey of all the units and kinds of measurement. Easy to read, and a coffee table chapter length.
This was a good one - the lives of the mathematicians, including all the good stories like Galois.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
This was a slightly sad book; Erwin has become part of popular culture with the cat (which gets barely a mention in here).
Obviously anyone who has a lifetime of work in a complex field that few people can honestly hope to understand or offer comment on, is going to be hard to do justice to. The biographer does a good job of linking Erwin's personal, spiritual and professional lives which prevents the book becoming too dry, but it's not an easy read whne the equations come out. I couldn't follow the eigenvector formulae and didn't try to , as it's far too complex for me. I was happy to see the development of ideas and the relationships with Neils Bohr, Paul Dirac, Albert Einstein etc and the way ES explored the field he was interested in, drew together the thoughts of collaborators, and presented these new ideas in ways that cemented understanding. He was, as well as a clever thinker, a clear explainer, which is at least as important.
In his personal life, he had some unusual relationships that were reported honestly but which were a little uncomfortable, but in the context of the 1920s and 30s perhaps made sense. His marriage and his children and lovers made for some complexity in his life, and all this against the backdrop of the rise of Nazism in Austria and Germany mean one shouldn't be too quick to judge. The letter he wrote to excuse himself for attitudes and behaviour early in 1939(?) was a complication that made it difficult for him to work or indeed to escape cleanly from Europe - and his own rejection of work in the US because of prohibition is with hindsight a poor one. He could have been with Einstein at Princeton but instead lived out the war in Ireland - not that that was a disaster, but it could have been different.
The book was dense and readable, for a serious biography of a theoretical physicist. It took me a while, but I enjoyed it.The thought part refers to his interest in Vedantic (?) Eastern philosophy and his ideas around self and spirituality that seem to have gone alongside his ideas on casuality. He doesn't seem to have been a crackpot, just someone for whom normal religion didn't fit, but the Eastern ideas on self and consciousness had a bit more - refer to 'The Tao of Physics' for more on this. I've read and enjoyed a few books along these lines so tend to appreciate these ideas where I might have otherwise rejected them -the idea that the universe and our perceptions of it are not as straightforward as science might suggest is appealing, and the ideas around quantum physics and uncertainty link into this quite well.
It felt like a grown up task, to read this, and yet it was a 'good' book to read. The last chapter felt like a reconciliation between Erwin and Anny, whether it was or not, I think the biographer felt sympathy. As did I.
Whoops, thought this would be a bit different - Lord Ashcroft is a fine person, and has helped us recover the lost medals stolen from Waiouru if I remember correctly, so good for him. He spends his money collecting and preserving medals and telling the stories attached to them, and this book is one of a series. It lists the recipients, in chronological order, and the circumstances around their award. It's naturally sad as many of the people commemorated died as part of the action for which they medal was awarded - but not all, so there were some who were alive to comment. The tales of derring do are fine, although they become a bit samey as the service history is listed - only a few truly stand out. The writing is good enough, if a bit 'boys own' and breathless, I think it's just that any war history becomes a bit overwhelming after enough examples are listed.
Yeah, I must stop reading these collections of newspaper columns collected together and published as books. They are dull, unconnected, annoying for being out of context with the times. And really exist purely to cash in on the Top Gear thing. Given that I have several of Clarkson's and haven't finished one because it got boring, this is the same. It'd be different if they were actual books, but these spliced together things are crap. Sorry.
A few ebooks - actually audiobooks - to add to the list - the first three in the Alvin Maker cycle by good old Orson Scott Card. On loan from the library, played through Overdrive on the iphone, through the car bluetooth connection. Yay tech. It works pretty well except for a week where I got my settings confused and it tried to play music instead, so I just listened to the phone speaker in the cupholder. Somehow I got the settings right again accidentally so we're all good again.
The books needed a good edit - they're preachy, with long sections on slavery, religion, the colonialism of the US, the natural link of the Red man to nature...this I think ends iup a 6 book cycle but I wonder whether it might have been brought down a bit. Orson talked at the end of book 12 and explained how it grew, so at least he understands...
Good tales; I always liked the books (I read Prentice Alvin or possibly Journeyman years ago) and they've been good company in the car. The magic is fun ,with the hexes and knacks, and the language of frontier America is trying for a Mark Twain but obviously doesn't quite have the gravitas or humour. Perhaps that's why it doesn't quite get there - the preachiness isn't as plain entertaining as some good ol' tale tellin - although he plays with language it can be self conscious - harder to spot in an audio book in some ways, more natural in others. The alternating narrators for different story threads is good, keeps it clear who is the central character, but there are times I want it to huirry the hell up as i only have so many minutes a day I can listen, and when he goes off on another rant I know it'll be ages before I find out what happens next. At least I do care.
Now here's another maths book. Mr Aczel wrote 'Fermat's Last Theorem' so he knows his stuff. This is mainly a recap of we known stories, but there is some new material (mostly on Bourbaki and Grothendieck http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2014/11/20/reclusive-mathematician-passes-away)
This was good, worth a re-read some time, lots of interestiing tales. Given that I know about Galois and Bernouilli and Fibonacci, thier treatment seemed a bit light compared with some, but then there were others who were very well covered. Overall a knowledgeable work well told.
Monday, September 28, 2015
Steampunk, McScience and Rumpole
Well you can tell I'd pick this one up - anything with William Gibson on it is ok by me. Unfortunately it's not. It is the defining Steampunk novel, and the alternate history, non-electronic Victorian world (Albertian, really, I suppose) is interesting. The Stink is a pivotal event, where London is engulfed by smog. Captain Swing is here and I wonder whether Terry Pratchett was referencing him in Captain Swing of the Cable Street Peculiars - have to look that one up. The book has some good bits, and some that make no sense. It chops and changes and seems to end at least three times. I lost my way and lost interest nad wonldn't read again unless I needed to show evidence for Steampunk somehow. Disappointed as I was hoping for some of the writing the Gibson does so well, and I don't think it's there in the way Neuromancer or Burning Chrome had it. SO the Gibson contribution? Conceptual perhaps.
Yeah, of Britain. OK so it's a celebration of British scientists and a tie in with a TV series, so lots of quotes from Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking and Robert Winston and James Dyson - all good stuff, presented in logical and clear chapters with enough science and intrigue to make a good story, and still be worth reading. Two of the people celebrated were from New Zealand, Ernest Rutherford from Nelson and Maurice Wilkins, from Pongaroa (coworker with Rosalind Franklin).
This one had Pink Floyd running around in my head - 'hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way'.
One of those books which stays in your head even though it's quiet and restrained, but it leaves you with unresolved issues and questions - did he adopt the boy, even though they turn out not to be related? Where did the mother go? Is Brenda interested? I don't know enough about Chekov to get the references but I assume there is a conscious attempt to show the bleak, mundane part of life on the South Coast while I suppose trying to be as good as. It's a mystery/thriller which is worth a read even after you know the events and who did what, as those things matter less than the conversations. A lot of the characters are sketched, and the novel is economical as a result, and could have been padded out a lot more. Glad it wasn't. The characters are caricatures, which is why I think it'll live on in my imagination. The lawyers are in particular, which I guess is the Rumpole coming through. I picked the book because I like Mortimer's Rumpole, but forgot about him while I read it, and only reminded myself later. It's ok, a quick read, a diversion. Not literature - thank goodness.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Mixed Bag here
These books all come from the Napier library. I've been trying to work my way through them despite having had a nasty dose of man flu, and a lot of distractions . They've been good to settle down with and clear my head, but I have to admit that I've not managed to process a lot of the higher science as it is frankly, beyond what I need to know and beyond the casual reader. But that's fine.
First up is the novel - I've described Ender and Orson Scott Card before and nothing has changed. This is the third novel I've read, and is chronologically sensible, although this was written second and the other one I read takes place before it but was written long after, if you follow. Card uses FTL travel to allow his characters to observe and participate in interstellar politics and does so cleverly - it's good scifi. I like that. The planet concerned here is populated by Portuguese immigrants so has language and religion that reflect this. I found this less engaging, but it sets up some conversations about free will, colonialism, and I suppose there is a reflection of the experience of the inhabitants of South America who were overwhelmed by the Europeans in the 15thC.
In the end the drama concerns the discovery of strange life forms, unexpected biology, and potentially a plague that could cause the people on planet to be quarantined there. Ender solves everyone's problems and plans to settle down, so this won't be a problem for him. It ends better than I feared, as it was a bit of a grind again getting through the middle of the book and all the handwringing. I think there are many more books in the series nad I might check a precis before I commit to more as they aren't brain off restful like my thrillers, nor really good like an Ursula Le Guin fantasy or a CJ Cherryh space story (don't start me on her cat or unicorn series - gaah)
This one was picked because it had Bill Bryson on the cover. I will read anything he's in, and his Short History of Nearly Everything is a classic of its kind. This is a survey of the history of the Royal Society from Newton on, each chapter written by a person of interest who has a perspective that's relevant to the time and topic they've chosen. This makes it interesting, but somewhat disconnected, and it was worthy without being quite the book I was expecting. Good stuff in it.
This was great - Alex follows up his previous Alex in Numberland with this and I enjoyed it even more - the storytelling and the weaving of maths and probability into an interesting narrative. A lot of these maths books have, obviously, the same basic content so it becomes a challenge to tell stories in a new way and to link the ideas to relevant concepts. Alex is my new favourite - from John Gribben and Ian Stewart, I'll read anything he publishes. Might need to google him and find a website.
OK another novel - and Neil is a favourite because of the Pratchett link. I enjoyed Anansi Boys before, and got this out at the same time. It's magical realism again, and has a scary hiver and some interesting supernatural people and a boy who falls into a battle between them. It would make a good horror film, it's tense and scary and has some grue, but is well told. The book includes interesting extras at the end - deleted excerpts, discussion questions (or was that Anansi Boys not this?) anyway worth the time and will leave me with longtime mental pictures of the characters.
Here we go, Ian Stewart, he of the Discworld science books, leads me down the story from inventing counting and basic number theory through all sorts of good things - until I suddenly found I was completely lost. The point where the P/NP problem appears as a life raft means you're well out from the beach. Again, enjoyed, saw some familiar material, feel smarter.
Just starting this but put the picture up - will let you know. The life of Galileo Galilei. I enjoyed 'Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel, and I have A More Perfect Heaven which I think I've written about and if not, I will. So this fits in with them.
I'm a collector/hoarder - and as a Pratchett fan I want everything he wrote, but am also put off by the spin off publishers who are wringing the last drops of cash out of us. So finding the library has these saves me dropping large amounts of cash on something I won't re-read. And that's about right for this. Nicely imagined, obviously dropped into Raising Steam the way Where's My Cow was in Thud, it's a coffeetable book and of limited value. Some nice bits, like pig boring, which shows up in The Shepherd's Crown later, and maps, but in the end doesn't add much to the work in my opinion.
This is book seven I think, and continues the theme where Milton tries to escape his past, find a way forward sober, and help people he finds along the way. The consequences of his work in New Orleans follow him to the ends of the earth, and he has to use all his guile and strength to survive Avi Bachman's revenge. Help from a few friends, a new environment in the Southern Hemisphere and Asia, and a pretty well written story with no major plot holes that I could see (beyond the usual suspension of disbelief in a thriller with global assassins supported by the Mossad, etc). It's a good extension of the series and certainly keeps the pot boiling without feeling like a potboiler. I've complained before about handwringing and it's true that in an early book it felt like we were being
pounded by the AA message and justifications to explain Milton's motivations. He has to keep it going but it feels consistent now and perhaps intrudes less into the story. Well worth the eprice.
Sad sad sad to read 'The Last Discworld Novel'. Tying the witches books more tightly to Tiffany Aching, this story feels a bit like the 'Apples' short story with Granny. It obviously links to Lords and Ladies, and Raising Steam. It's not complete, and the afterword acknowledges this . It was written in parts, and you could perhaps work out which parts were written when TP was better, and which were 'anticipating your instructions'. It's not fair to judge it as a complete Discworld novel knowing this, and for sure it lacks the magic of language and 'surprise' that we are so used to.
Others found it a magnificent sign off and found references I didn't - I often miss things that are wildly obvious to others. I just figured Mrs Earwig = Mrs Ah-wij was a Hyacinth Bouquet joke, then just got the 'a witch' joke now. Headslap.
I'm a collector and a hoarder and I paid full price on release as I always have. Although nowdays it's for the ebook. Recommended, but don't start with it.